Happy Black History Month, everyone!
For February, we will be focusing on Hip-Hop and Rap music here at the MTRC in support of Black History Month. Catherine and I have received some feedback from some of you that you want to learn more about rap music, and how to use rap therapeutically!
I reached out to Jessica Fletcher, MM, MT-BC, a music therapist who we went to school with at Baldwin Wallace. Jessica is an alumni of both Baldwin-Wallace College and Ohio University. When asked about her experiences at BWC she said, “I started in oboe performance, fell in love with MT afterwards. […] It was really exciting to develop the beginning of my music therapy career in an urban environment, which I think informs a lot of what we’re talking about today.” She completed her internship at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center spending 3 months in a Psychiatric facility, and 3 mo in Pittsburgh Children’s hospital—two very different experiences. “I loved it!” Jessica shared.
Following her internship, Jessica attended Ohio University and pursued a masters in music therapy with a focus on child and family studies. Her thesis research focused on the effect of rap writing on the self esteem of at-risk adolescents. “Grad school is a great idea,” Jessica told me. “It’s fun and important to dive in deep to something you really care about in the field.”
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that both Jessica and I coming from a place of privilege as white women from advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. I want to stress that we approach this topic from the lens of allies, rather than as natives. I hope that this interview provides a baseline for many of you, dear readers, to feel comfortable using rap music clinically!
B: How did your interests while you were studying in school inform where you are today?
J: “It was very much an accident. My interest in Rap and Hip Hop. . . It started when [rap] began to be a conversation in the field and with my practicum experiences at BW”
In Jessica’s final practicum experience at BWC she conducted therapy sessions at a juvenile detention center in urban Cleveland, Ohio. “[it was] interesting and eye opening,” She remembered. “Going to this private college, coming from this place of privilege . . . I remember coming out of the first orientation and being terrified as to how I would connect with these individuals with such a different background. And then I remembered, ‘Oh wait, I have this great thing called music!’”
Jessica was honest going into the first session and asked for song suggestions and preferences from the group, and she used that as a starting point. “When I was accepting of what they enjoyed and really tried to be open to learning about them and their experiences and what they needed through their music, that’s what really made the group special. And made it so that they could accomplish their goals, start to express themselves, and communicate with each other rather than engaging in destructive behaviors […] that’s what really grabbed my interest.”
This first experience was what clinched it for Jessica, “ I never had seen such passion from people who love the genre […] that’s what really drew me to learn more about it and why they found it so important.”
B: Where do you currently work?
“Central Ohio Music Therapy – it’s a fantastic, private practice and we serve multiple populations throughout Central and Southeastern Ohio. We actually have a blog of our own reviewing current music therapy research and making it accessible for the public!” (https://centralohiomusictherapy.com/wordpress/latest_research/)
We then turned the conversation towards our monthly theme. When asked, Jessica explained Rap and Hip Hop as being “born out of racial and socioeconomic conflict in the Bronx in the late 1970’s.” But she was careful to be clear with the relationship between Hip Hop and rap, “Hip hop is to Jazz, what rap is to bebop.” Jessica continued by clarifying, “There are different terms, and a lot of people chose to use different terms and capitalization purposefully.”
One definition that Jessica finds useful is from The Gospel of Hip Hop by KRS-One, “Hip Hop is the name of our culture and the artistic elements.” This definition is much more broad than one would expect. “Hip Hop can include graffiti art, and breakdancing. Rap is a narrow definition and is a very specific form of expression. It doesn’t encompass all of the potential modalities,” Jessica states.
“A lot of people hear it on the radio—and there are stereotypes about the genre [example: negative reactions to violent content] but they forget where it came from. And that’s what really sparked my interest in wanting to include rap/Hip Hop in my music therapy research and help others integrate the genre into music therapy practice where it is appropriate. Because the history is really what gives you the richness and therapeutic value. It came out of this conflict, and this anger that there was no voice to express hardships.”
She continues, “Rap and Hip Hop developed when turntables and electric keyboards became less expensive and more accessible, so that is what they used to create. The late 1970’s artists […] they were speaking about important things that were happening. They were saying, ‘this is what’s happening, and no one is listening.’”
B: I know we have touched on this a few times already, but how did you become interested with Rap and Hip Hop music?
Without skipping a beat, Jessica shared this book title with me [full citation below], “The Therapeutic Uses of Rap and Hip Hop” and explained that this book has articles from many different perspectives from music therapists, to social workers, to counsellors. “The book just floored me with how interesting it was. […] When I came to grad school, I knew it was something I wanted to focus on. A lot of my practicum [experiences were] with at risk children and adolescents.”
Even in rural Southeastern Ohio, Jessica had found that a lot of the individuals she worked with loved rap music. Strongly identified with it, even! “These at risk clients are still citing that rap as some of their favorite music. It’s almost always Country and Rap [..] even here, where you’d think no one would like rap and hip hop—it’s still there.”
B: What do you attribute the desire for rap music in rural Ohio with adolescents as a better expression, or perhaps an equal expression of who they are?
“I’ve asked them,” Jessica said. “In my thesis, I do have some of their own words.” She then explained to me the all too familiar struggle that many music therapists have come across: the vulnerability of the singing voice. If you ask some individuals to sing their reaction may be, “That’s way too scary!” Jessica shared. But speaking, talking, using the voice that is employed everyday and is familiar involves much less risk, even if the words being spoken are potentially susceptible.
But perhaps it isn’t just the struggle between speaking and singing? Jessica elucidates, “There’s definitely the socio-economic value, too. Feelings of ‘I’m really struggling,’ and there are these socio-economic struggles happening [in SE OH] as well.”
Jessica connected this seamlessly, “[Rap] gives a voice to the voiceless. That was my big finding through my mixed methods research. It gave [the participants] a sense of freedom because they were able to express what they were going through.” So in actuality, there are plenty of reasons why anyone would be interested in and passionate about rap music.
B: Do you think that music therapists are actively changing their thoughts on rap and Hip Hop?
Jessica is optimistic that change is already happening in our field, “I think that we’re going to see that changing. It’s also one of the things that’s hard to quantify in research. […] There’s more people presenting on it, and more people are listening.”
Jessica is encouraging, “Music therapists tend to get stuck on, ‘Well I can’t rap, that’s too hard.’ You can, you just have to practice a little. It may not sound perfect, but your clients are often nervous, too.”
B: How does Rap music provide an opportunity for anyone to engage, create, compose, communicate, and share experiences?
Jessica’s passion shone through answering this question. She declared, “It is really the people’s music, so it lends itself to sharing that experience. The themes […] are especially empowering. A lot of people like to talk about it, and it opens a line of communication. ‘Oh, you like rap, so do I!’ and then there is a connection. […] If they like the genre, they’re going to be passionate about it.”
Although there may be profanity in the preferred songs one may come across, Jessica has some good advice. She suggests having an open conversation about the lyrics, and why those words are meaningful to the individual. Ask, “Why don’t you tell me about why you like the song?” The answer just might surprise you!
Jessica is clear, “If I make them rap, I also rap.” The experience is a two-way street. “It’s an easy way to compose.” An easy way to start providing opportunities in session is by asking for each participant to write down a few lines, and have them speak over a beat. “You can almost get anyone to buy in.” Jessica insists. “Even if someone is unsure as to how to express [themselves], you can make it seem very simple.”
B: What are some good resources to read/know about to become more informed?
1.) Hadley, S. & Yancy, G. (2011) Therapeutic uses of rap and hip hop. Routledge. Jessica says this is “the best starter” for research on this subject.
2.) The Gospel of Hip Hop by KRS-One – very intellectual, but very interesting. Brings up conversations and points that you don’t think about. It has great definitions of rap and Hip Hop in it.
3.) “Michael Viega’s dissertation was incredibly interesting.” Jessica remarked. You can find the dissertation by searching his name and, “Loving Me and My Butterfly Wings,” on Google Scholar. “Dr. Michael Viega has been doing a ton of important work with music therapy and Hip Hop. I recommend anyone who can go to a music therapy conference to go hear him speak.”
And if you’d like to read Jessica’s Thesis, “We’re Free: The Impact of a rap writing music therapy intervention on self-esteem of at-risk adolescents in a public middle school setting,”
You can follow this link:
Jessica’s Top 10 Repertoire for Rap and Hip Hop:
5 Songs/recordings that you can incorporate into your sessions tomorrow!
1.) The Message- Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
2.) Keep Ya Head Up-2Pac (Explicit)
3.) Mirror-Lil’ Wayne and Bruno Mars (Explicit)
4.) One Man Can Change The World-Big Sean
5.) i-Kendrick Lamar (Explicit)
5 Songs that are good to start with when beginning to incorporate rap/Hip Hop into session live:
1.) Stressed Out-Twenty One Pilots
2.) I Can-Nas (Great for songwriting!)
3.) See You Again-Wiz Khalifa
4.) How to Love–Lil’ Wayne
5.) Airplanes- B.o.B.